Tanzania's south-land was a
mountainous realm of mist-bearded peaks, coffee plantations, peach trees intermingled with
commonplace mango, banana, and papaw, maize fields growing at steep angles throughout,
villages constructed of materials so indigenous as to appear like crops themselves, their
conical roofs of straw sprouting here, there, and everywhere.
Sitting separately on a jam-packed mini-bus, Yayuk tried in vain to
keep from thumping against the seat-back, distracting herself from an escalating headache
by focusing on the splendid vistas all around... while Sebastian, treated to one
baked banana and a bag full of peanuts bought for him when the vehicle made its second of
several stops, conversed with a local farmer. Most passengers were dressed rather
festively, and carried more perishables than usual. Intermixed with typical sacks of staples
were cakes and brainy gobs of meat. It being New Years Eve day, moods aboard
reflected the impending celebration.
finally came into view, its hillside homes stacked high in a pyramid-shaped cluster,
reminded Yayuk of Bogor, West Java's tea region. Being 'a little bit familiar, their
welcome felt warm... as did the Moravian Youth Hostel, just up from where their bus
terminated, a tidy, cleanly accommodation, and—due to daily rehearsals of the
local choir—'melodic.' Hot showers were available (with water drawn from two cast-iron cauldrons
over red-eyed coals), adding literal warmth to the couple's reception. And though
they had too few shillings to pay for their cozy room and board, the management let them
slide until banks reopened on Tuesday.
After a frugal meal of eggs, chips, and Pepsi-Cola, then a
slow-motion stroll from the food-stall back to their digs, the couple (fed, scrubbed, and
medicated—for skin irritations, bug bites, and Yayuk's dwindling lump), retired to
side-by-side bunks... content to greet the New Year with "auld lang syne"
... until Mr. Lazarus, roused by a rising crescendo of footloose
revelers, decided separation was too unromantic. As music, boisterous voices, then the
tolling of church bells announced midnight far and wide, Sebastian joined his wounded
ladylove—who returned his hug uncertainly, worried lest 1996 ring in more discord.
Two days and over
six hundred kilometers later, the couple reached the City of Peace, Dar-Es-Salaam. Traffic
lights (which they had not seen in quite some time) signaled their re-entry to
"civilization"—Third-world style (Dar's chaotic streets too colorful and
lively to be mistaken for the First).
Egypt Air was objective number one. Having decided to extend their
African travels, the couple needed to rearrange flight reservations (the ramifications thereof
destined to be long-reaching). For openers, Yayuk's LA to Jakarta ticket would lapse
on January 6th, a $700 loss that was regrettable, but less depressing than cutting short
their adventures—not to mention their relationship. More worrisome was Ms.
Kertanegara's American visa. It, with the New Year's turn, already had expired. Would the
U.S. Embassy in Dar issue her a new one? Yayuk and Sebastian had already jumped through
several bureaucratic hoops to secure the original. An extension, or a re-application,
might instigate problems.
First things first; they canceled Yayuk's Garuda flight and
re-booked their Nairobi to Cairo to New York to LA to San Francisco tickets for March 1st
and 2nd. Next, they exchanged travelers cheques for more shillings. Finally, instead of
chancing a rejection by some unsympathetic immigration officer, they ambled off for coffee
at the Salamander Café, wherein the decision was made to wait until George Lawrence &
Family returned from spending Christmas back in the States. One of Sebastian's boyhood
buddies, George Whittaker Lawrence III was a high-ranking UN official stationed in Dar—whose
influence might come in handy should Yayuk's visa present complications.
"Let's go to Zanzibar tomorrow," Yayuk suggested with rare
Though sufficiently energetic to hold their attention, Dar was a bit
pricey. Plus, their primary reason for being in the capital was to visit the Lawrences.
Without George, his Thai wife Ratiporn, and their two teenage children, big-city life held
considerably less appeal. Whereas Zanzibar—the mere name conjuring up exotic images of
multi-ethnic culture, Arabic architecture, and acre upon acre of succulent spices—could
be reached by boat in a fleeting three-and-one-half hours...
... requiring four, during
which first class passengers (the sole option for non-residents) were subjected to not one
but a back-to-back pair of Chuck Norris movies, the second approaching its
oh-so-predictable outcome as the M.V. Muungano finally made port. Forced to choose between
"I dont step on toes, I step on necks" and setting foot on the mythical
island of Zanzibar without further delay, Yayuk and Sebastian made bee-lines toward the
High season, meaning most things cost double, cast an initial pall over
the Spice Isle's allure. Twenty U.S. dollars per night for accommodations (regardless the
"free" breakfast) meant five dollars left for food and other expenses—if Yayuk
and Sebastian were to stay within their budget. An alternative had to be found...
...and was, in the form of a private Stonetown house, to which a seaman
named Abdullah led the economy-minded couple. After innumerable twists and turns through
Zanzibar's unfathomable maze of alleyways, then entering a nondescript doorway, the
threesome climbed a dark wooden staircase, entered a family room, only to exit immediately
into an open-air atrium—off which was a squat toilet and pantry—then climbed yet another
staircase, this one of stone, its steps so narrow that toes needed to be turned outward,
Charlie-Chaplin fashion, to mount them, onto a balcony with laundry draped over its
railing—off which stood another squat toilet with working shower—finally reaching the
thresholds of two top floor rooms. Abdullah resided in the first. The second was kept in
reserve, allegedly for the odd adventurous traveler. Two such in tow, Abdullah called for
the key. His younger brother Ali reported that brother Mabruk had it, who would very soon
return from afternoon prayers. Anxious to get some idea what might lurk behind the
guestroom door, Sebastian asked for a peek at Abdullah's room. He complied. A
mattress on an otherwise bare concrete floor, clothes hung from nails driven into the
unadorned walls' woodwork, and a half-smoked pack of cigarettes represented evidence of a
rather Spartan habitation. Unimpressed, but not yet in total despair, the couple watched
Abdullah play cat burglar, passing from his room to the one adjacent via a street-side
porch, a ledge, and an unlocked window. Entry for the would-be renters was thereby
A mismatched pair of substantial-looking beds was the first encouraging
sign—their under-size lumpy mattresses notwithstanding. A ceiling propeller fan—that
worked—was good omen number two. And though an adjoining bathroom, with cobwebs and
filthy wash basin, proved disappointing, an alternative, just down the balcony, was at
their disposal. Yayuk nodded tentative approval—price depending. Whereupon Sebastian
re-introduced Ms. Kertanegara as his "champion Indonesian negotiator," letting
her wheel and deal with their potential next-door neighbor. The result? Eight dollars
total for the first night, seven dollars for every night thereafter—payable in shillings!
Affording life on Zanzibar would henceforth be a breeze.
designated by red spray-painted lettering on one of several busy walls plastered with
political slogans and posters of various candidates, was where four meandering alley-width
streets intersected at obtuse angles, an epicenter of sorts that drew the couple, daily,
to its age-old slice-of-life core. Tanzanian coffee—roasted, ground, and brewed on the
spot—likewise enticed the pair, their craving shared with the locals, whose rowdy
discourse grew rowdier upon imbibing the percolated bean. Mostly Muslims hung out on the
stone steps facing this crossroads, men almost exclusively. The couple's credentials
for joining them each morning were therefore dubious; Yayuk qualified religiously,
Sebastian was a male, but neither exactly belonged with these rabble-rousing residents. No
objections were raised, however. The fact that the foreigners seldom spoke, even to each
other, but instead sat sipping and writing, writing and sipping...
(Sebastian occasionally looking up from his
work-in-progress, Yayuk from her correspondence, at some attention-grabbing detail:
the sudden gush of scent from a
freshly opened jackfruit;
voices raised in the heat of an
wind causing triangular flags of
red, white, and sky-blue bunting to stir overhead;
body sweat wafting its acrid odor
from under a passing burnoose, kanga, or scarf)
... rendered their presence less intrusive, less
conspicuous than were they snap-shot-shooting tourists. Or so they presumed.
"Are you Filipino? I buy many Filipino women," was the
insolence directed at Yayuk by a swarthy character in scarlet trousers who poured (in
the vendor's absence) two demi-cups of coffee...
... and who reminded Sebastian, when Yayuk crossed back and
reported what the man had said, of a similar sleaze-ball (back in Cairo) who had made so
bold as to offer five camels for the petite Ms. Kertanegara. At a temporary loss for some
pithy rebuke (then and now), Sebastian fixed the pimp with a castigating glare.
and lead us not...
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